216 pages, 1 map
Rooks and jackdaws are both members of the same bird family. To ornithologists the group is known as the corvids, to the layperson they are 'crows'. But to Mark Cocker these two species have become a fixation and a way of life. When he moved with his family to a rundown cottage in the Norfolk Broads, he acquired first a naturalist's perfect home in the countryside, then the keys to a secret landscape. Twice a day flight-lines of rooks and jackdaws pass over the house on their way to a roost in the Yare Valley. Following them down to the river one winter's night, the author discovered a roiling, deafening flock of birds which rises at its peak to 40,000. From the moment he watched the multitudes blossom as a mysterious dark flower above the night woods, these gloriously commonplace birds were unsheathed entirely from their ordinariness.
Cocker goes in search of them, journeying from the cavernous, deadened heartland of South England to the hills of Dumfriesshire, experiencing spectacular failures alongside magical successes and epiphanies. Step by step he pieces together the complexities of the birds' inner lives, the historical depth of the British relationship with the rook and the unforeseen richness hidden in that sombre voice, a raucous crow song that he calls 'our landscape made audible'.
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Mark Cocker is one of Britain's foremost writers on nature and contributes regularly to the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, as well as BBC Radio. His seven books, including the universally acclaimed Birds Britannica (with Richard Mabey), deal with modern responses to wilderness, whether found in landscape, human societies or in other species. His most recent work is a selection of writings over the last two decades, A Tiger in the Sand. He has travelled the world in search of wildlife and won a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to study the cultural importance of birds in West Africa.